Jun. 17, 2011

Science Dad on Germination

by Vince Harriman

Click to enlarge images

To be perfectly fair, Science Mom should be sitting here at the computer writing this, because when I came home the other day she and Beckett were planting herbs in the little pots I was planning on using for this post. Oh well, there can never be too much science in a house or too many scientists!

All three, properly labelled

I walked in the door just in time to hear Science Mom doing a very good job of keeping the project on track. Science Mom and Beckett had cilantro, basil, and parsley seeds, but Beckett thought it might be funny to change the labels around to see what would happen. "Nothing will happen," Science Mom said, "other than nobody will know which herb is which." So, Beckett reluctantly planted, watered and labeled the seeds correctly.

A few days later and...

Parsley after 4 days

Tiny little buds began to appear after only a day or two, and by days three and four, real plants were sitting on our kitchen window sill. Amazing!

With the end of spring (and the beginning of summer) only days away, this seemed like a long overdue experiment. I am hoping that in a week or two Science Mom and Beckett will transfer the plants to a large planter out in the back yard and we'll have fresh herbs to cook with sometime this summer.

If the plants make it that long. Beckett wants to water them every day, or somehow interact with them everyday -- to speed up the process, or at least see a little bit more of the process happening.

I explained that seed germination is a very complicated and delicate act. Seeds need (usually) four things to grow: water, temperature, sunlight (or darkness), and oxygen. Seeds don't typically need additional food to begin the process, because, among other things the seed does, it acts as its own food source. The tricky part (and often hardest part for young scientists to understand and provide) is the oxygen. Normally, atmospheric oxygen and oxygen in soil is enough for the seeds, but add too much water to the soil, and the seeds can't access the oxygen so they asphyxiate. You've probably seen worms crawling around in mud after a heavy rain -- it's not because they like mud, but because they need oxygen! It's the same with seeds, only they can't crawl out.

Beckett has managed to slow down and not over-water the seeds this first week.

You can see a cool time-lapse video of mung bean germination here. When I was a kid I was fascinated by time lapse videos of any kind. Like Beckett, I just couldn't wait for weeks to see the tiny plants peek over the top of the pot. Don't worry -- we'll keep you updated. I'll make sure Science Mom sees to it!

About Vince Harriman

Science Dad, AKA Vince Harriman, is a freelance writer living in Annapolis. His two sons, Beckett-6 and Rowan-2 1/2 ask him 'why' approximately 6,542 times a day.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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